Publisher’s Note: I met Anthony at Libertopia in October 2011 and was captivated by his speech on the police and the clear and present danger they pose to all humans on Earth and especially in the Untied States. He was kind enough to take the time for this interview. -BB
Why are the police such a threat?
All states are institutions of organized, legitimized violence, and the police are the enforcement arm of these institutions. So police are always and everywhere a threat. In our own time and country, the police have been more than the mundane threat inherent to the nature of government. They have become the occupying army Malcolm X identified, but much worse. The wars on drugs and terrorism have dramatically militarized our police forces. Most laws they enforce are morally bankrupt, most of their techniques are atrocious, and the personnel employed by these forces have tended to become increasingly aggressive and lacking in curiosity. The way they dress—as though about to stage a Third-World coup—should tell you all you need to know. The vast numbers of arrests, the allure of seizing goods through asset forfeiture, the steady erosion of the Bill of Rights, the proliferation of SWAT raids—100 a day in America—and the doctrine that police are virtually immune for their wrongful conduct have all conspired to create a most formidable police state in our land of the free.
How would you suggest the average person take precautions for a police encounter?
I don’t know what my advice is worth here. I am fairly cowardly around these agents of the state, as they are armed and dangerous and often unpredictable. I would just suggest being polite, not overly subservient but certainly not confrontation. Standing up for your rights, while always moral, is not always wise, if survival is a high priority. It also depends on the type of encounter. All are potentially dangerous, especially today, but you can still get a feel for the cops who are probably less likely to ruin your day or life.
Do you suppose that the institution of police in America has simply been ramping up in violence against the citizenry over time? What is causing the increased brutality that is becoming so commonplace?
A large part of it is the drug war. The modern police were born largely in the progressive era and got much worse when they got vehicles, huge departments, fingerprinting databases, jails of significant size, and powerful weapons. But in the last few decades, the drug war has completely obliterated whatever protections of common denizens previously existed. The standards for search and seizure have been greatly compromised, which makes everything else worse, and the huge rise in federal subsidies for municipal police in the forms of military hardware has been particularly pernicious, especially in terms of the police’s attitude. They have been taught to look at our cities and towns as war zones, and all of us as potential enemy combatants. Plenty of other laws, like those against “resisting arrest,” certainly tip the balance further toward the police state.
After the drug war desensitized the American people to invasive police searches, raids, and brutality, the war on terrorism and all that has transpired in the last decade have simply been a mop-up job. So long as we have a large government—with a strong regulatory apparatus and paternalistic criminal code—police state will be with us. The immigration laws and gun laws make the problem much worse. But at root is a cultural issue: Many American people are used to this, support it, or remember nothing else.
How severe do you suppose is the under-reporting of police brutality in America?
I think it’s a big problem. A YouTube is available showing how difficult it is to file a complaint with the police department. I think the vast majority of brutality against the youth, the poor, and minorities, is never officially reported. For years feminists have said sexual abuse is probably under-reported, and I would agree with their reasoning, but it would seem to apply even more so to police brutality, where the imbalance of power between cops and citizens is far greater than between men and women.
How do we break down the dangerous and sycophantic relationship between the media and the police? There is a dangerous hero worship of even the most thuggish behavior.
The media are in bed with the state. At times, the media are worse than the state itself! The Hutaree militia folks, persecuted by the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office, were treated like dangerous terrorists all over the mainstream media. A federal judge just threw out the conspiracy charges. The fact that conservatives assume the media are hard on the police doesn’t help, since it encourages more slavish support of the police state in fear of looking too biased in the other direction. How can this be changed? The same way the media’s love of the welfare state and warfare state can be changed—new media, the internet, breaking the corporate-state stranglehold on public opinion. There’s no easy answer.
I have often observed that cops are the number one threat to liberty in America. Without the police, no law whether just or unjust could be enforced. What do you think?
Of course you are right. Police and other law enforcers are the ones who ensure that we have tyranny, by keeping us in line and caging those who don’t obey. There is no totalitarianism without police. There is no socialism, either. Not only is most of what the police do immoral in its own right, and almost all of what they do conducted in an immoral manner—they are the principal guardians of the regime. As far as I’m concerned, you can raise my taxes, ban guns, and abolish the right to private property, but if there are no armed agents to enforce these edicts, we will be free.
How do you feel about the distinction between mall/private police and statist cops? Is there a linkage with the blanket immunity granted to statist cops and their brutal performance on the job?
Absolutely. Private police are imperfect specimens doing a tough job that can’t be done perfectly all the time. But although they far outnumber government police, how often do we hear about them abusing their power? It happens, but rarely. They are held responsible. They are serving customers and communities rather than the state. George Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin, seemingly done in the name of private security, has inspired a whirlwind of scandal and attention. I don’t think we know what happened there. But had Zimmerman been a cop there would have been far less outrage. He would have said he was attacked and that would have been that. I am not crazy about the extent of the mob mentality involved in the reaction to the shooting. But it does tell us something: People don’t like what they perceive to be injustice. Government police have a license to commit injustice every day.
Should we disarm the police?
It’s the only kind of gun control I’m comfortable with discussing. So long as we have cops—if we have to concede that much to the state—I would simply say: the police should have no legal rights that the rest of us don’t. This includes in what kind of weapons they can carry. If they can have battle rifles sitting in their car, I should be allowed to as well. I don’t like the idea of saying anyone can’t carry a gun, but perhaps there should be restrictions on what the police can carry, as opposed to the rest of us. If they really need to arrest someone, maybe they can get non-police to help in the endeavor. It’s an interesting thought experiment, but it will not fly in the United States, of course.
Do you suppose with NDAA, the increasing domestic use of UAVs and the war on drugs that police abuse will only worsen over time?
Yes. The war on terrorism has been infecting all our localities, and now with drone surveillance underway, we have to wonder what is next? Drone shootings against citizens? It sounds crazy now but 20 years ago, descriptions of today’s airports and the powers the president claims would sound have sounded crazy. I think the police state will continue to get much worse before things get better.
What future project(s) is Anthony Gregory contemplating now?
I’m wrapping up my first book on habeas corpus. I’m doing a few other scholarly works, contemplating my future scholarly career, and mostly writing blogs and articles. The Independent Institute is where I do most of my pro-liberty work, but I have other venues as well. I hope soon to begin a new book project soon, and maybe—just maybe—some anti-state music videos over the next year or so. We’ll see.
Anthony Gregory is Research Editor at the Independent Institute and is currently writing a book on individual liberty and the writ of habeas corpus.
He has written hundreds of articles that have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, San Diego Union-Tribune, Washington Times, Dallas Morning News, Salt Lake Tribune, Sacramento Bee, Tallahassee Democrat, Albany (NY) Times Union, Portland Oregonian, Raleigh News and Observer, Florida Today, Bellingham (WA) Herald, Modesto Bee, East Valley Tribune (AZ), Contra Costa Times, and many other newspapers; as well as in Human Events, Counterpunch, The American Conservative, Alternet, Antiwar.com, The Independent Review and the Journal of Libertarian Studies.
He also regularly writes for numerous news and commentary web sites, including LewRockwell.com and the Future of Freedom Foundation. He earned his bachelor’s degree in American history from the University of California at Berkeley, giving the undergraduate history commencement speech in 2003.